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Does Boston Bombing Embody a Lesson for the Muslim Parents in the West? – By A Z

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At this year’s Boston Marathon Islamist terrorists chose to have a blast at the expense of innocent and unsuspecting participants. It may be pertinent to explain that the Boston Marathon is no ordinary event. It is the oldest annual marathon in the world which began in 1897. It is always held on Patriots’ Day which commemorates the battles of Lexington and Concord, which were fought near Boston in 1775. Patriots’ Day is held every third Monday of April. The Boston Marathon is one of the six Marathon Majors in the world (the other races being Tokyo, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York) and also the toughest to negotiate.

As the Boston blast blurs the distinction between the terrorism of foreign and domestic origin, I want to make an pertinent observation here. Since Oklahoma bombing by Timothy McVeigh 18 years ago, the American have understood that terror could be home-grown too. But the bombing in Boston makes the line between foreign and domestic terror scarily unclear. It severely undermines the proud American belief that an immigrant of ability and ambition can become American, integrate fully in the society, and work his way to the top. The two Tsarnaev boys have shaken that belief. Let’s hope that the Boston blast is an isolated incident and not the tip of an iceberg, but the question remains how can the Muslims who are (often) born and raised in the West feel such hatred for their fellow citizens that they would plot and kill innocent people. Why do many Muslims feel so alienated from the rest of the society in the Western countries?

The answer probably lies in the fact that many Muslims who were either born in the West as citizens or chose to migrate here pass all their time denigrating the West and its moral values as evil. This however does not stop them from benefiting from the advantages, liberties, and comforts of the Western society. While most of these people usually have a moderate attitude towards life and religion, their outlook, nevertheless, represents current intellectual and theological thinking in Islam. Instead of developing an outlook that is based on an informed understanding of Islam in its current and multicultural context as evolving to address the needs and issues of modern age in a way that is spiritually correct, they often adopt an approach that negates progress and diversity by becoming more conservative and isolationist. The quest for identity is a normal phenomenon in the struggle of a generation for a place in the dominant society, but the rigid manner in which this quest for identity often gets distorted –especially post 9/11- is surprising.

What these people fail to realize is how their attitude affects their younger generations. It is a pity to imagine the identity dilemma of these kids brought up in a Western environment who have been encouraged by parents, tight groupings, and extended family to dis-identify with ‘Western’ cultural and political contexts and to imagine themselves as being from somewhere else (Chechnya, Iraq, Palestine, Bangladesh, Pakistan etc.) Some of this is natural as the struggle of a new generation to find a place in a dominant society, though made more conspicuous by the fact these Muslim youth of immigrant parents are more ‘diverse’ in colour, names, religion, and culture than most other immigrants. What further exacerbates it is that on one hand the political situation in the West since 9/11 constructs Islam as an enemy and on the other hand at home these kids are given lessons in a litany of injustices of the West against Islam. Sometimes ‘identity Islam’ is also pursued as a refuge from the perceived or real ‘racial rejection’. No wonder the idea that they are in fact the superior ones, and different from the morally corrupt and evil society around them, rings pleasant to some of these young ears whereas their parents feel smug that they have resolved the immediate threat of assimilation into Western culture by keeping their youth on the right path and proud of it. Little do these parents realize that by abetting the process of this simultaneous alienation from the Western culture and from the culture of their idealized place of origin, they are setting up their kids for the embrace either of a culture-free Islamic militancy or of crime and drugs. As we know, one of the major characteristics of political Islam is the rejection of culture with the ideological premise that the ‘true Islam’ is above everything cultural. It is pristine and is politically capable of establishing a utopian state where everyone is contented and honest and which if imposed on humanity can make the world a better place. These revivalists often dominate Muslim organizations and mosques by dint of their dedication, strong networks, material support particularly from the Gulf Arabs, and a clear ideological agenda.  

The problem of alienating the kids from the culture and political context of their Western abode is a deep rooted one. I am amazed by the number of sites in North America that warn Muslim youth against the evils of a Western cultural factors such as prom nights, Halloween, celebrating the birthdays as the manifestations of paganism. The sense of cheerleading that goes on in most of Muslim youth events is sustained by a cultural and religious arrogance ingrained in them by their elders and Muslim religious organizations. Unfortunately most of them have very superficial knowledge of Islam and are ready to welcome and follow, without analysis or examining the context, any discourse purporting to be Islamic.  A fear of being co-opted by the Western university system leads some of these young ideologues to a fascination with madrassa style religious learning. Online mullahs and the ‘sheikhs’, in robes and turbans, living in the West provide them with authoritarian certitude that they are looking for.

In my observation it hard not to feel sorry for the kids whose parents are often guilty of bringing them up in a context where they continue to see themselves from somewhere else (Pakistan, Iraq, Iran etc.) even though they have not the slightest possibility or inclination to make it as authentic citizens of their imagined homeland. Their parents expect them to be model Muslims in their own mould and to accumulate worldly gains by entering the most lucrative careers. Many of the Muslim kids are taught to pursue technical fields, applied sciences, business, and medicine as these are viewed as less corrupting than the humanities and social sciences subjects as they prefer to avoid the issues of interpretation raised by the humanities and social sciences which may challenge their understanding of Islam. No wonder this under-involvement in the humanities and social sciences by Muslims undermines the community’s ability to articulate its place within the mainstream society. I am glad to see that a wide majority of these youth manage to configure their personal symmetry amidst these conflicting cultural demands and contexts, but I do feel for those few who go astray and seek refuge not only in militant Islam but even more often in crime, gangs, and drug use. It seems that the elder Tsarnaev brother was one such case who then led astray his younger and impressionable brother.

About the author

Asif Zaidi

4 Comments

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  • I think that we often miss an important point- West/America is also changing Islam.
    There are major changes appearing in Islam as more Westerners and their children become Moslems, and more Moslems become American and Western. For the first time, traditional beliefs are being questioned from within, such as equality for women, and that non-believers deserve equal rights, and that Islam is perhaps, not the only way to heaven.
    In America, large numbers of Moslems from all over the world are finding they don’t agree at all, and that some practices in other countries are truly offensive. America has become a boiling pot, not to mention a melting pot, and within the past few generations, there has been more change in Islam than there has been in centuries.
    To some Moslems, opposition to the mosque in New York is proof of oppression. But if they got the mosque, they would have to re-think their beliefs about oppression.
    Of course Saudi Arabia does not allow churches. They are terrified that too many of their people would convert. By denying them freedom and opportunity to learn about new religions, they can keep the lid on rebellion by controlling their religion. But guess what? The war in Iraq showed there are more Shiite Moslems in Saudi Arabia, and in the surrounding countries, than they ever suspected. Although the Wahabis claim the Shi’ite to be apostates, now they are on the defensive, even in their own country.
    Civil War may not be the outcome, but even without that break, there is a mingling of ideas and a ferment of concepts that Islam has never undergone before.
    What will the changes be? I don’t know, but Islam a hundred years from now will be greatly different from Islam today.
    Thank Allah!

  • My personal preference is for Western Muslims to reject those parts of their religion that requires them to kill, subjugate, or convert their Non-Muslim neighbors. I would prefer to see them be bad Muslims and good Europeans.
    Are you a Christian? Will you reject those parts of your religion that require you to kill, subjugate or convert your non-Christian neighbors? Does that make you a bad Christian?
    See? We agree. In order to be a good, tolerant European, you need to be a bad Muslim.
    By some people’s definition of Muslim. Or you need to redefine Islam (or go to one of the many existing definitions of Islam) that allow peaceful co-existence. Islam is not a unified, thought-controlled orthodoxy – many, many people find entirely different interpretations of Islam in their texts and teachings.
    Just as in order to be a good, tolerant European, you need to be a bad Christian – or else redefine Christianity, or find a definition of Christianity that allows peaceful co-existence with non-Christian neighbors.
    The fundamentalist, literalist interpretation of almost any religion, particularly monotheistic religions, does not allow for peaceful co-existence with other peoples. That does not mean that all who practice those faiths are bad – they have just found a different interpretation of their texts which leaves out or redefines the nastier bits.
    And no, not “welcome to the Right”. The Right sees clearly the problem with Muslim fundamentalism – but coddles and cherishes Christian fundamentalism, which is MORE dangerous to Western values and western civil liberties because it has more of a foothold in this society and more adherents.
    I dislike fundamentalism of every stripe. But the way to get rid of fundamentalism is not to persecute it, or to persecute the whole religion to which the fundamentalists belong. That only creates martyrs, and makes the fundamentalist parts of the persecuted faith stronger. It is to allow freedom for all to believe and do as they choose, but to use the secular law fairly and evenly to punish or prevent ANY who step out of bounds and seek to impose their faith’s rules on other people’s lives.

  • Asif, while some of the parents may unwittingly alienate their kids from the society they are in it is not as big a crisis as some of the comments here make it out to be. Quite often these are adolescent anxieties cloaked in a fervour for Islamic identity. We know that sometimes a hyper religious or politcal zeal arises in an individual in young years at a particualr stage of personality development and then gradually diffuses with maturity and the demands of livelihood and family. Quite often the affirmation of religious identity among Muslim students in the West is not only a way to wear their faith on sleeves but also using their Muslim identity as a means to counteract their marginality within the public schools. Often it is a means to maintain the religious values and lifestyles of Muslims in a society based on cultural norms at variance with Islam. This just highlights the importance of staying on the right path for the Muslims who live in non-Muslim societies. Things such as dating, premarital sex, drug, dancing, and alcohol use, which may be common practices among many youth in Western societies, are strictly forbidden in Islam.

  • Yes, emphasis on Form rather than Substance has marred the Islamic spirit to take root in the Muslim societies. Probably, the Arab tribal culture is more responsible for this anomaly, as the Islam which developed in Iran , Turkey or Bosnia is culturally more rational and tolerant. No doubt, Christianity has evolved better culturally, especially as far as place of women and relationship between men and women are concerned. Dating, dancing, premarital sex, parties, birthday celebrations are all part of a dynamic younger spirit and should be acceptable as long as these do not cross over to drugs or crimes which are equally considered bad in the western societies. In Islamic societies the parents wrongfully try to shape lives of their children into the acceptable moulds rather than simply guiding them to evolve constructively.
    However, what we resent against the west is not the cultural differences where, no doubt, we need to evolve and adapt to west. But, we resent their ways through instruments like CIA, tactics elaborated in books like “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man” or “They Dare to Speak Out “by former Senator Paul Findley etc. West practice “Might is Right” and monopolistic ways of ruling the world while preaching peace, justice and openness etc. Israel has been one big example of their arrogance and difference in their words and deeds, $ 800 billion annual defence budget of the US in a world where people are deprived of a dollar a day for their food and killing of 3 million Iraqis, millions of Afghanis, Syrians etc in a desire to shape the world into the mould of their preference are all what create extremists and result in 9/11 etc. The west also need to question as to why the US flag is burnt everywhere despite their claims of giving billions in economic aid to ungrateful people while Islam could not be rooted out even after mass killings by Stalin in Central Asia etc.
    Therefore, I would rather prefer that these heinous actions of west are debated honestly which in reaction create extremists and result in acts of extremism rather than lecturing some poor parents who are so ungrateful that despite living in the US their children can commit acts of terrorism. This is intellectual dishonesty and amounts to sabotaging the facts rather than serving the cause of peace and justice in the world. Individual acts of terrorism may affect few innocent people but can’t be made larger than the crimes committed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Kashmir etc, etc. It is not a question of East and West or Islam, Christianity or Judaism but it is a question of Right Vs Wrong and Have and Have Nots. Do not blur the picture by picking up insignificant acts of some individuals involved in despicable acts of terrorism etc and sale Black as White.